South Africa: Davit system customised for antipiracy efforts

By: Anine Vermeulen

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa’s premier scientific research and development organisation, has developed a removable hoisting and davit-storage system that rapidly places smaller vessels on frigates for immediate response to piracy along the African coastline.

“We are in a strong strategic partnership with the Department of Defence (DoD) to deal with and find ways to counter piracy,” says CSIR executive director of the council’s unit for defence, peace, safety and security André Nepgen.

The CSIR and the South African Navy realised it would be easier to release small craft from frigates while they are patrolling the coastline, which led to the council customising a hoisting and davit-storage system six months ago.

Nepgen highlights that during the development phase and sea trials, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had to respond to an actual piracy threat on Africa’s east coast and the Navy had its first success using the CSIR’s new system.

The design and development of the davit system, which lowers small craft from a frigate into the water, was customised for South African naval vessels and according to our antipiracy requirements,” he says.

The system comprises a wave-compensating hydraulic davit system, mounted on a load-vector compensating base. The base houses the drive system that includes local and remote controls, stored energy for a full deployment and recovery operation, as well as the logistics support equipment needed for the boat, Nepgen states, adding that the complete system fits into a container footprint that is mounted onto and adapted to the ship’s deck.

“The davit system can accommodate boats of various hull shapes weighing up to 5 t and enables the boats and crews to be lowered and retrieved safely.

“Two davit systems are normally fitted to a ship, with another two boats housed in the ship’s CSIR-developed cradle system,” he notes.

Nepgen says that the development of the removable davit system has resulted in technology packages that have attracted international attention.

“The development of the davit system has sparked a cycle of innovation. Not only has the Navy benefited from these new developments but the CSIR has also taken a further step and commercialised the system.”

CSIR’s Role in Industry

Nepgen states that the CSIR has taken a head-on approach and plays a leading role when developing the science, engineering and technological capabilities of South Africa’s defence industry.

“The CSIR’s role is to operate in the best interest of the nation, in this case in partnership with the DoD, by acting as the department’s in-house science, engineering and technological capability.

“The DoD is technologically intensive and the CSIR has been developing the department’s capabilities by improving and sustaining existing strategic capabilities and by developing new ones by increasing its involvement in more areas of the department,” he says.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest science and technology challenges the defence industry faces is to convincingly and rapidly showcase the benefits of new technologies.

“This is definitely a global challenge, even though technological options are rapidly multiplying on a global scale. People in the industry want to see a greater impact from science, engineering and technology,” explains Nepgen.

Internet communication is exploding internationally and allows countries to improve their awareness of activities that are being undertaken around them, he points out. “This knowledge is then interpreted to understand the consequences these activities have currently and will have in the future.”

For example, Nepgen says South Africa needs to be aware of the various types of aircraft flying over its borders to identify threats and smugglers. As a result, the CSIR is working on sensing, processing and data-fusion technologies to improve the country’s existing recognition process.

“We need to enhance our situation awareness to provide South Africa’s commanders and defence force with a better idea of what suspicious behaviour warrants further investigation,” he explains.

“A complete solution will not be found easily; however, partial solutions that are tailored to South Africa’s needs are developed regularly,” Nepgen says, adding that situation-awareness technology is constantly being upgraded worldwide.

Skills and Education

Nepgen states that there is a high demand for skills and education in the defence industry in South Africa.

“In general, the country, especially its defence industry, has a reputation of being innovative and using a systems approach. South Africa is developing a new genera- tion of scientists and engineers who are able to define, conceptualise and design on a systems-based level, thereby leveraging national capabilities.”

He notes that the CSIR has been growing its capabilities and has employed 200 new engineers under the age of 30 during the last five years, who have been capable of contributing to technological advancements in the defence industry.

“We also have a pipeline of 400 pre- employment engineers, which is the largest engineering research and development cap- ability in the country,” Nepgen highlights, adding that these individuals are being trained to become systems engineers.

“This initiative has the potential to leverage the defence industry and make it more competitive, while allowing South Africa to be strategically independent in specific areas.”

He adds that the CSIR has developed relationships with several universities in South Africa and started two new master’s level courses in engineering at the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria last year.

“We are also establishing joint-technology partnerships worldwide, which involve exchange programmes to improve the CSIR’s understanding of technological advances in the global defence industry.”

Nepgen points out that the CSIR’s main potential for growth lies in developing technologies for the DoD in the areas of border protection and cyber security.

“The technological needs of the bodies governing South Africa’s defence, national security, as well as its safety and security, overlap; therefore, the CSIR foresees strong potential to support other government departments, such as the South African Police Service, to assist them in developing new technologies to improve their function,” he says.

Edited by: Tracy Hancock